It’s Not About the Destination

I love my planner. With work and family, I have multiple things going on and need a place to get it all out of my head. It helps keep me sane. It also offers me a new inspirational quote each week. This week’s quote was especially fitting as I prepare for a road trip with my two little ones to my cousin’s wedding, about seven hours away.

A good traveler

I learned about three years ago, when Riley was born, that no plans are fixed. Okay, it took me about a year to fully let go of the control I longed to have over plans, but I learned and relearned how to be flexible. By the time Maddie came around, I’d mastered it (or at least as much as any control freak can). So, on my road trip, I do not plan to have any fixed plans. There will be no “I will arrive by this time” or “We will stop at this rest stop.” I fully intend to either arrive early or late. I may stay a night in a town I hadn’t planned to stay in, and I probably will be stopping along the side of the highway at some point.

The second half is a little harder. I fully intend on arriving.

Like you should with any quote, I am choosing not to take this quote at its literal meaning. We will arrive, although I may arrive a little wiser than when I left. I have traveled by air with a baby, then a pre-toddler, and then a toddler when I made my yearly trip home for Christmas with Riley while we still lived in Colorado, and I know that you do not arrive as the person that you were when you took off. Usually the person getting off of the plane is much more haggard, a little wiser, and either set back by or touched by humanity.

 

As a new mother, I had my first airplane adventure with Riley when she was three months old. Still new to the scene of motherhood, I hung on to a small amount of my dignity. I had the diaper bag packed with all the essentials, had my own carry-on with my essentials, and was in a generally cheery mood. Most of the passengers were mothers with their children, which I was happy to see. We were going to do just fine.The doors locked, the flight attendants went through their spiel, and we were cleared for takeoff. The front tire had barely left the runway when I felt a rumble. It was too early for turbulence, and unfortunately, I knew that type of rumble all too well. Then the smell hit. Yes, Riley had soiled her diaper at the most inopportune time. It takes about twenty to thirty minutes after takeoff to level out and for the “fasten seat belt” sign to turn off. I couldn’t muster the strength to look up at the other afflicted passengers during this waiting period. Even on a flight full of moms, I knew I would be hard-pressed to find a sympathizer who would overlook the stench she also had to endure. As soon as the flight attendants gave the signal, I made my way, eyes down, to change my little bundle’s bundle. It was my first taste of mom embarrassment. I arrived a little humbler.

Newly a toddler the next year, I was prepared for some embarrassing moments. By this time, I’d been through my share of them. I wasn’t prepared for the maddening adventure that ensued. This time, I was seated between two very busy, very self-important businessmen. If there wasn’t sympathy on the previous flight then there definitely wasn’t any now. Again seizing the opportunity, Riley did not waste a minute and began squirming, climbing, kicking, screaming, and lurching her tiny body in every direction. Keeping flailing toddler hands under control in that confined space is nothing short of a nightmare. My apologies fell on stony stares. Just when I thought I could not take anymore, the businessman to my right pulled out his laptop. A laptop. Riley’s kryptonite. She lost all control and lunged toward it, trying desperately to pound away at its keys. She spent the remainder of the flight completely sideways in my arms crying, reaching, and twitching her body every way she could. The businessman didn’t even look up. I swore never to fly again. I arrived a little harder.

 

The next trip, Riley was full swing into her toddler years. This time, my mom was visiting to help me move to Indiana. The day prior, my mom and I had packed up my entire house and loaded it onto the moving truck. The next morning, we were exhausted and very eager to get on our way. Getting to the airport, though, proved harder than it sounded. Our flight was at noon, so I scheduled a taxi to pick us up from my house by 9:30. It would give us plenty of time to get there, check in, and grab a bite before getting on the plane. As 9:40 rolled around, the taxi was nowhere to be found; 9:50, still no taxi. I was on the phone with dispatch by that time, and they regretfully informed me that in fact there was no taxi on the way. The request had been misplaced, and they would send another taxi. At 10:20, the taxi finally turtle taxishowed up, slowly hovering past each house looking for its destination. I ran to the bottom of the driveway, frantically waving my arms. Its reaction to my hurried call was less than quick. I rapidly explained that we needed to leave quickly and make it to the airport as fast as possible. This fell on deaf ears. There was not a fast bone in this taxi driver’s body. He reversed as if he were driving through molasses, and the pace did not increase much by the time he got to the highway. I made a fateful mistake of asking him if we would be charged for the fare due to the oversight about halfway to the airport. He diligently pulled over to the side of the highway to call dispatch. I was beside myself and desperately begged him while he chatted to please start driving again. Again, it fell on deaf ears. At that point, my mom and I were so stressed and fatigued that we couldn’t help but break down laughing. We eventually made it and still had about five minutes to spare and grabbed some McDonald’s for Ri before getting on the plane. Surprisingly, she sat and behaved like an angel the whole way. There is something to be said about the presence of a grandparent. I arrived a little more jovial.

With my past traveling-with-a-kid experience tucked safely in my memory, I will embark on this road trip fully intending to arrive. I won’t be fully the person I was when I left. I just hope that my sanity arrives with me.

 

I Can Fly!

I heard a story this week about a young man who makes unusual life choices, such as becoming a monk, deciding to quit the monkhood and ride his bicycle back to Indiana from Arizona with no plan or map, and waking up one morning and running a half-marathon. This is amazing and all, but what the storyteller said last struck me the most: “He did these things because no one ever told him he couldn’t.”

How many times do I tell Story she can’t do something? All the times.

“You can’t go potty in the backyard.”Flying

“You can’t be a dragon at school.”

“You can’t have candy for breakfast.”

“You can’t ride the dog like a horse.”

The list goes on and on. Of course, aside from the dragon transformation, she actually can do these things. It’s just not preferable. So, why then do I tell her she can’t? Why don’t I just explain to her why she shouldn’t do these things instead? I’m familiar with Carol Dweck’s work; I’ve read Mindset, and I know the effects of growth versus fixed mindsets. I also know that if you continuously impart negativity on someone, he or she will likely grow to believe it. I know all of this but still, “Story, you can’t.”

While the things I tell her she can’t do now don’t seem like such a big deal, I don’t want Story to grow up to have an “I can’t” attitude. So I resolved to change my downbeat ways.

My first challenge: Story has decided to fly. She began practicing by jumping from one piece of furniture to another. Once she was successful with this, she graduated to jumping from the deck railing. She kept at it even after quite a few falls, which means she’s serious. After practicing from the middle of the slide and not getting much further with her goal, she decided that she needs wings. She’s reassured me that once she has her wings and flies away, she will find me again by using echolocation like a bat.

And this is where I am. Do I make the wings she wants (and has described to me in detail) and let her figure it out on her own? I have to protect her from harm, of course, so I can’t just let her try to fly from a tree. That takes me back to “can’t.” Do I tell her that humans can’t fly, not on their own anyway? Maybe I should just pretend my resolution hasn’t started yet and tackle the next challenge instead. But who knows what that will be? What do you suggest, friends? What would be your chosen course of action?

Play Hard, Work Less

It has happened. I knew that it would. My once stationary, sweet little baby has transitioned to a very mobile 1 year old. Games have become all consuming and all cleaning has gone by the wayside.Toy rings

Like rings on a tree, the rings of toys on the kitchen floor can tell you a child’s age. At three months, your floors are spotless. The counters are wiped, aside from a stray coffee ring next to the always-on coffee pot. The baby is playing happily in her bouncer, and you are singing children’s songs while washing dishes. Okay, maybe it didn’t happen exactly that way, but after you experience a few more months, you’ll begin to imagine it was that way.

 

By five months, there is a Bumbo in the middle of the floor. A set of Fisher Price keys, a rattling toy, and a soft, crunchy book can be found in a circle around it. You are now washing a dish, wiping your hands on the towel, picking up a toy, and giving it back to your smiling baby. You turn around and begin washing another dish as you feel those plastic keys hit your foot. You wipe your hands, return the toy, wash a dish.

By nine months, the baby is sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by the shape sorter, three different-sized balls, a Little People playset, the walker you are encouraging her to start using, a set of toy musical instruments, four baby dolls, and a set of measuring cups you thought might help entertain her. The toys make a perfect circle around your precious child as she picks up each one for precisely one minute and then throws it down in boredom. You are now singing, with a little more speed to your tempo, thinking about how one might accomplish washing a dish with one hand, while clapping the tempo on your leg and using your foot to pick up a toy and push it back to your poor attention-deprived baby. Inevitably, she ends up in the pots and pans, pulling out each one with a startling crash.

 

By twelve months, she has become fully mobile — perhaps not walking yet but definitely able to keep up with the best of those crawling. The kitchen now holds 80% of the toys that belong in the playroom. The perfect circle is a more modern-looking series of circles that create a wall along the perimeter. The last line of defense to keep her from escaping. You are now looking at a line of dishes that have been patiently waiting for you all week. After creating a new voice for the troll doll that has your baby captivated, you think you can start working down that line. You turn, pick up a dish, and hear the pitter-patter of tiny legs going straight for the stairs.

And so I find myself here.

Yes, Maddie has discovered the stairs. More and more, I have learned that Maddie has a natural sense for adventure Maddies gameand a sense of humor to go with it. I fear she may be the child who will grow up and think jumping out of a plane is fun. Two weeks into her thirteenth month, she has discovered and fully embraced the fun of scaring people. She waits patiently for me to turn my back to that line of dishes, then makes a mad, one-legged crawling dash to the stairs. She will wait at the first stair until she hears me say, “Maddie, you know you aren’t supposed to be climbing the stairs by yourself!” and begin coming after her. She then climbs to the second stair, stands up, holds onto the rails, and waits. I come around the corner and approach the rails. “Mad–” Before I can finish her name, she uses her whole body to scream, “AHHHHH!” I jump and pretend to be frightened. She belly laughs. “You scared me!” I exclaim as I pick her up and bring her safely back to the kitchen. She is delighted with herself and waits patiently for me to turn so that we can repeat the game.

I would lament the change of my not-so-clean house to my we’re-using-paper-plates-now house if the game weren’t so much fun.

Lessons Learned: Buy more safety gates, enjoy it all, find solace in the fact that Apple will likely someday invent a self-cleaning dish app (the iDish), and begin researching how to appease adrenaline junkies without jumping out of a plane.

 

Preschool Graduation

It’s been an emotional week for Ali and me. Maddie turned one, and we had to say
Story Preschool graduationgoodbye to “baby.” Story graduated preschool, and we had to say goodbye to “little girl.” I knew these transitions were going to be tough, but I had no idea of the effect they were going to have on me. I was always curious about mothers’ reactions to preschool graduation and the first day of kindergarten. Why on earth were tears always involved? Wasn’t this supposed to be exciting? Not being much of a crier myself, I thought that maybe those moms were just the emotional sort. Never did it occur to me that I might react the same way. I thought I was fine and dandy for preschool graduation; Story certainly was. It turns out I wasn’t.

Monday, Maddie’s birthday: I left my work computer at home. I live too far away to just run home and get it, so I had to borrow one, and it did not care for me. I forgot our summer intern was starting that morning and had to rush to pull things (and myself) together enough to get her going. I lost my to-do list and forgot a deadline. I left my workout clothes at home, too. I lost my wrist brace. (I have carpal tunnel syndrome.) I forgot Maddie’s balloon and birthday card for the party.

 

Tuesday: I wore my leggings backwards all day. I made coffee with leftover grounds. I still could not find my wrist brace and guessed it was under the mountain of laundry on my couch. I also could not find clean socks for Story, so I sent her to school in mine. I wandered around at work, periodically forgetting where I was going and what I was supposed to do.

Wednesday: I forgot my lunch. I also forgot to look under the laundry mountain for my wrist brace. By this time, my wrist was killing me, so a coworker made a sort of brace out of wooden craft sticks and rubber bands. (Thanks, Rachel.) I cried a bit at the end of Book 10 of the How to Train Your Dragon series as Story and I listened to it on the way to school and felt a strong kinship with Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III.

Thursday, Story’s preschool graduation: I cried a bit in the morning as sweet Story ticked off all the ways she would still need me even after graduation. I don’t remember the work day at all. I teared up during the program as they showed the kids growing up. I held it all together though until after my family left and Story fell asleep. Then I sobbed into my pillow until I got the sup-sups.

 

Friday: I felt supremely better! I found my wrist brace. I remembered everything. I got through my to-do list. Story told me I was the bestest mom in the whole wide world. And she let me put the toothpaste on the brush for her, without reminding me that she could do it herself.

I understand now. Thanks for the lesson, Universe. And I’m sorry, moms, for judging you.

On Your First Birthday

Maddie in hospitalYou, my baby, are turning one this week. The cake is made, the decorations bought. Yes, the celebration is on. For me though, the celebration is bittersweet. Besides the obvious joy of you embarking on childhood, there are also a lot of selfishly good things that come along with your turning one — no more formula, you can have honey to soothe coughs, pureeing baby food will become a thing of the past, and I am one step closer to sleeping again. This was enough to help me get through Riley turning one; in fact, with her I looked forward to it. But you are my baby, and I know that I will not have any more. This time, it means saying goodbye to all of the ups and downs that make up a baby’s first year of life for good. As we celebrate, I can’t help but also lament those things that I’m going to miss about you, Maddie.

1) Toothless smiles. That time you smiled, I mean really smiled, and your mouth was all gums. I spent my days doing the most embarrassing songs, dances, and games just to get that gummy smile to come out. Even the stress of teething was eased by the enhanced cuteness of your smile with each single tooth. I’ll miss that.

2) Your shoes being painted on your socks. Slipping on those adorable painted-on mary janes completed every outfit. They were your go-to shoes. Easy to slip on and endearing. Soon we’ll be wrestling to get out of the door with even one shoe strapped to your foot. Shoes aren’t so adorable anymore. I’ll miss those socks.

4) Lifting up your belly to unfasten your diaper. You progressed quickly from being an easy diaper change to rolling all over the place. Now, diaper changes typically start with you sitting up, which requires the lifting of your plump little belly to unfasten it. I’ll miss that little belly and all the little rolls that accompanied it.

5) Snuggles. Morning time when you want to relax on my chest for just a little while longer, your little hands rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. During the day when you just need a rest and lay your head on my shoulder. Nighttime as you suck your fingers and drift to sleep. I’ll miss all of those.

6) Milestones. One of the best parts about having a baby is that you are never the same month to month. There are so many milestones along the way in this short first year of life that I am privileged enough to witness and in some cases help you achieve. Sitting, successful tummy time, eating baby cereal, crawling, smiling — all of it is new and exciting. The look of pride and the accompanying grin as you achieve all of it is priceless. I’ll miss those.

7) The stumbling progression to walking. From the moment you first pulled up on the coffee table and began to cruise, I knew that walking would soon follow and life would never be the same. Then you began standing on your own, swaying with your little arms out for balance. Then the many, many falls on your little diaper-cushioned bottom until you finally master that one first step. It’s the anticipation and the inevitable glory that make this so much fun. I’ll miss that.

8) Baby smell. No, I’m not talking about the dirty diapers, the formula-scented spit-up, or those gaseous toots you were famous for around four months. It’s that mild, understated smell that babies have. For those who haven’t smelled it, it’s hard to explain, but for those who have, it’s hard to keep from smiling while remembering it. I’ll miss that.

9) Unencumbered excitement. Whether it’s me returning to daycare at the end of the work day or spotting your missing ball across the room, your entire body reacts to the joy. The joy bounces your legs, which bounce your torso till it escapes from your ear-to-ear smile. This excitement can pull me out of any bad mood and reminds me that days are full of small things to celebrate. I’ll miss those bounces.

10) Being needed, all of the time. It’s the thing about having a baby that tests a Hand in handmom’s patience but is also, hands down, the greatest part. You needs me for everything — to be fed, to be dressed, to be calmed down, to share in excitement. Every accomplishment you have, you look to me for praise. Every boo-boo you get, you want me to comfort. The mother-daughter bond is strong and interdependent. But, as you pass your first birthday, you will begin your journey to independence, and it’ll be my task to help you get there. I know that it’ll be a joy to watch. I also know that I will miss the days that you needed me for everything, and I was easily able to meet your needs. I will deeply miss that.

If I’ve learned anything in my journey of motherhood, it is to take the time to acknowledge what is hard and enjoy all of the other times. This birthday, I’m finding this lesson especially important. Sometimes what is emotionally hard as a mom is a great accomplishment for our kids. It’s part of letting go. So this is me letting go of a phase of my life, and my baby’s first year. I can’t wait to see the woman she becomes.